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The Year In EdTech Trends

It was a year of a massive surge in edtech innovations and investments. EdSurge takes a look at the biggest themes.

The past year saw a geyser of edtech entrepreneurial developments. Here are some of the trends that EdSurge readers followed most avidly this past year:


Like the beloved Abbott and Costello routine, edtech entrepreneurs could be excused for feeling a bit dizzy about who is doing what in the (edtech) field. In November, many eyeballs took a gander at the market map created by the NewSchools Venture Fund. On the demand side of the equation, the Innosight Institute early this year chronicled examples of schools trying out blended learning approaches (PDF). And here’s our list of startups that debuted in 2011.


Math remains both devilishly hard to teach well, and yet the easiest to score, which makes it perhaps most amenable to the latest innovations in learning. There are hosts of startups and early-stage companies offering math. Among the ones we’re watching: "adaptive" math programs (Dreambox); comprehensive practice exercise math programs (TenMarks); teaching math concepts through motion (Motion Math); teaching math through games (including the likes of Sokikom and Manga High); creating a "virtual world" for rewarding math achievement (Wowzers); video lessons that integrate math into real-world problems (Mathalicious).  


Mobile devices are streaming into schools in all forms, from smartphones to tablets—especially iPads. The coming year—2012—should prove extremely interesting as the results of pilots become better known. The proliferation of devices overlaps with another big trend: What kinds of "books" should students be using? A host of e-book companies are starting, some to commercialize the books that exist (Inkling and Kno); a handful to create—even crowdsource—books to come (Eleven Learning).    


Startup incubators devoted to education debuted this year. Three Silicon Valley long-timers, Alan Louie (formerly of Google) along with Tim Brady and Geoff Ralston (formerly of Yahoo) started Imagine K12 and hosted their first cohort of 10 startups. StartupWeekend unveiled an education vertical.


Sal Khan, the creative, chatty guy behind the Khan Academy, was a big draw this year, particularly as he migrated his program to bricks and mortar schools, a effort chronicled in "Blend My Learning: Lessons Learned from a Summer Blended Learning Pilot" (PDF). Other million-clicks men: Stanford (and Google) professors Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig taught artificial intelligence to thousands.

It’s still tough to find content jewels out there in the wilds of the web. Gaining momentum this year were efforts to help educators find what they need, including BetterLesson, started by former teachers, which is building a lesson-plan repository, and TeachersPayTeachers, fast becoming a sort of eBay for teachers selling lesson plans or other materials they’ve made. Also, there’s nonprofit Ednovo, which is refining a Google-like search tool for helping teachers find digital media (30,000 resources and counting) to supplement their lessons.


Yes, we saw big M&A deals this year: Pearson plunked down $230 million for Schoolnet and another $400 million for Connections Education. Permira Fund wrestled PlatoLearning for the privilege of paying $455 million for RenaissanceLearning. ePals debuted on the Toronto exchange. Edtech M&A activity was north of $1.6 billion this year.
Here are a dozen top edtech investments this past year:

  • $33M                      Knewton
  • $32.5M                   2tor
  • $30M                      Kno
  • $20M                      CampusBookRentals
  • $17M                      Inkling
  • $17M                      Zeebo
  • $13M                      Edmodo
  • $11M                      Dreambox
  • $10M                      ConnectEDU
  • $10M                      MyEDU
  • $8M                        Instructure
  • $7M                        Grockit
 And 2011 should be just a warm-up for the year to come.